Friday, October 17, 2014

A Review of Maureen Corrigan's So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures (Little, Brown and Company, 2014)

The best thing about Corrigan's writing (true also in her memoir Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading) is her expression of the joy of reading and books. Her love of The Great Gatsby is contagious, and certainly made me want to read it yet again.

And it's fun the varying paths that are taken in the study of the book; as a biography of F. Scott Fitzgeral, a tracking of the book's critical and commercial fall and rise (quite the opposite of how things usually happen), and the reaction to the book for a great variety of readers.

My one qualm with the book (similar to one I had with her reading memoir) is political.When she writes about the book's character Tom Buchanan's passion for the book "The Rise of Colored Empires" she writes, "Because Tom's tirade is played for laughs in the very first chapter of The Great Gatsby, it reassures us from the outset that the novel is inclusive, even progressive, in its politics" there seems to be an assumption that racism and a belief in eugenics is "conservative" and the opposite of the politics of the left. When, in fact, many leading progressives of the time were firm believers in eugenics (see Margaret Sanger) and inveterate racists (see Woodrow Wilson). But as with here memoir, Corrigan has a rather simplistic political view (pretty much "Conservatives, Republicans...BAD....Liberals, Democrats...GOOD!")

Corrigan's observations about the symbolism in the book are delightful, and her observation that these symbols and the book's tight structure can pass unnoticed because of the eloquence and charm of Fitzgerald's prose. Also interesting was her linking the novel to the PI noir tradition and her insight that the rise of the book's popularity might be linked to its being one of the books made available in mass quantities to GI's headed overseas.

I do have one other quibble. Corrigan says that The Great Gatsby is Fitzgerald's only great novel. Tender Is the Night is a great novel, about this she is just flat wrong.

How About "As the New Saying Goes?"

My grandmother (father's side) spent a number of her last years in a convalescent home. She was in southern California, we were in northern California, so though my aunt was there most days, we only saw her a couple of times a year.
Part of the adventure of these visits was seeing the other residents who weren't as together as my grandma. There was The Soldier who made his bed many times a day and would stand at attention by his bed. Another gentleman in a wheel chair would make race car sounds. There was an escape artist that made it to the streets more than a time or two (kind of like Steve McQueen with his motorcycle, but not really at all). My brother would often say on these trips, "I hope I have enough sense to shoot myself before I'm in a place like this."

But my grandma sure didn't feel that way. Though wheelchair bound, her mind was fine. And her smile was in very good shape. The staff loved her. She was cheery and always appreciative of the nurses and attendants. She wasn't demanding, but was treated well because she was loved.

And she loved to talk. She would tell about all the happenings in the home (that's how we heard about the escape attempts). She would tell old stories about family, her husband who was forced to travel the country to support the family during the Great Depression and about her six children (my dad was #4.)

At the conclusion of one of her stories, of one of her sons working in a Colorado coal mine or daughter serving in the Peace Corps, she would conclude the story with these words, "Well, as the old saying goes..." And then she'd go on and tell a different story.
We would never know if she actually had an adage in mind or if it was just a conversational tic. I'm sure sometimes it was one and sometimes it was the other.

But it sure would make you wonder. If she was telling a story about an impulsive action by one of her sons, was the "old saying" she was thinking of "Look before you leap" or "He who hesitates is lost"? If she was telling about dealing with want in difficult days was the "old saying" she was thinking of, "A penny saved is a penny earned" or "Penny wise and pound foolish"?
Or perhaps you could come up with your own saying. My favorite self-made adage is "Cleanliness is next to godliness; why settle for second best?"

"As the old saying goes..." could go in a lot of directions. Grandma has been gone a lot of years. And now I wouldn't care what old saying she was thinking of, if only I could hear her saying it.

Friday, October 3, 2014

My Drunk Hotel Guest Story of the Week

Night before last, most of the hotel was booked with one business group. Shortly after I arrived, I got a call complaining about loud people in the hallway on the 3rd floor. I went up and found a group of women in the hall way drinking wine and talking loudly so I told them they could carry on the party in the lobby or go to their rooms.
I went up ten minutes later to see if they had dispersed (they had) and while wandering the hall I noticed the door to room 3.11 was propped open with a shoe.

A while later, I got a call from room 3.03: "Hi, I left my key in my room." "Alright, I'll meet you at your room with a master key." "I'm not sure of my room number." "I'll meet you the room you're in with the master key and a room directory." "Thanks, you're the best."

Two women were in 3.03. One opened the door and the other woman was scanning the floor. I asked the woman's last name (Ms. Gingold) and then told her room number. "I told you, you were in 3.11."

"I can't find my shoe," Ms. Gingold said. "Oh, I think I can help you with that as well," I said. She was wearing one shoe, a three inch platform shoe. Therefore she was hobbling. "Could you give please give me a piggyback ride to my room?" Because we try to help guests in whatever way we can and she looked light, I said "Yes." Her friend from 3.03 took a picture of this, which I'm sure will get me fired someday.

But here's the fascinating part of the story. The shoe that propped open her door was a black flat. The matching platform shoe was about a foot in from of the door.